The Capitals have had a number of great centers in their 43-year history in the NHL. One of those centers was Swede Bengt Gustafsson. In NoVa Caps’ latest Capitals Alumni Profile, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle takes a look back at Gustafsson’s career.
Bengt Gustafsson was born on March 23, 1958, in Karlskoga, Sweden. The Washington Capitals drafted him in the 1978 NHL Entry Draft in the fifth round with the 55th overall pick. Prior to being drafted by the Caps, he played with the Farjestads BK hockey club in his hometown of Karlskoga, playing in Division 2 in the 1973-74 season, but in Division 1 in each of the next three seasons. After the draft, Gustafsson chose to remain with his Swedish club for the 1978-1979 season, but signed with the Edmonton Oilers (then of the World Hockey Association) that March, and made his debut in the WHA playoffs, playing in two games, scoring one goal and adding two assists for three points. With the merger of the WHA into the NHL, the Capitals reclaimed Gustaffson’s rights.
Gustafsson later admitted, “I didn’t know what was going on, to be honest. I found out later on I was drafted. At that time, there were so few Europeans and Swedish players over here, it was nothing you were really thinking about. My dream was to make the Swedish national team, that’s what I was aiming for.”
Gustafsson represented Sweden in International competition prior to his NHL career: He was part of Sweden’s team in the 1975-76 Under 19 Championships, during which he had three goals and two assists in five games. He also participated in the Under 20 World Junior Championships that same season, in which he played four games and had two goals and one assists. He represented Sweden in the Under 20 World Junior Championships in each of the next two seasons, in 1976-77, scoring two goals and adding two assists in seven games and in 1977-78, scoring two goals and recording six assists in seven games.
Washington Capitals Career
Gustafsson had a very productive rookie year in 1979-80, playing 80 games while scoring 22 goals and adding 38 assists for a total of 60 points. He remained with the Caps for nine seasons and was generally a model of consistency. He generally scored close to 20 goals and had close to 40 assists each year. His career-high in goals came during the 1983-84 season, in which he had 32 goals. He also had 43 assists that year for a total of 75 points. The 1984-85 season was a down season for him, as he had only 14 goals and 29 assists in just 51 games, as he was hampered by a bad hamstring for much of the season. He rebounded nicely in 1985-86 with 23 goals and 52 assists, with a career-high for assists and tying his career-high in points with 75.
Disaster befell him at the end of that season, as he ended up badly breaking his leg in a collision with Dennis Potvin of the New York Islanders, causing him to miss the rest of the season and the playoffs. Feeling he had lost much of his speed as a result of the broken leg, he remained in Sweden for the 1986-87 season, playing with Bofors, a developmental club in his hometown. He took the opportunity to reinvent his game and was in top condition by the end of the year. Afterwards, he returned to the Capitals for two more seasons. He finished his NHL career with 196 goals and 359 assists for a total of 555 points in 629 games played. During the Caps’ 40th Anniversary season in 2014-15, the Capitals paid tribute to Gustafsson as one of the 40 best players in the history of the franchise.
Gustafsson was a conscientious two play player and like many European players from his era, he would pass rather than shoot. He did have a great snapshot, which he could release accurately. He was part of the Caps’ first playoff team ever, in 1982-83, during which he had one assist. He had two goals and three assists in the 1983-84 playoffs. His best playoff performance came during the 1988 postseason, when he had four goals and nine assists for a total of 13 points in 14 games played. Throughout his Capitals career, he played in 32 playoff games, scoring nine goals, and had 19 assists for a total of 28 points. He also represented Sweden in the World Championships throughout his tenure with the Caps.
He returned to Sweden for good after the 1989-90 season, returning to the Farjestads BK hockey club in his hometown of Karlskoga.
He played with Farjestads for four more years. During that time, he represented Sweden in the World Championships and also represented Sweden in the 1992 Olympic Games. Once he had finished playing with Farjestads BK, he played for the BEU team in Feldkirch, Austria for the Austrian League where he continued to play until he was 40.
In a twist of fate, the Caps drafted his son, Anton, in the first-round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but unlike his father, never made it to the NHL., returning to Sweden to continue his career.
By Diane Doyle
Check out other Alumni Profiles:
Washington Capitals Alumni Profile: Michal Pivonka
Capitals Alumni Profile: Gaétan Duchesne
Capitals Alumni Profile – Larry Murphy
Capitals Alumni Profile – Brendan Witt
Washington Capitals Alumni Profile – Alan Hangsleben
Capitals Alumni Profile: Mike Green
Capitals Alumni Profile: Rick Green